Who’s not familiar with irises? ‘Fanatics’ will go to great lengths to find them, from Yerucham to the Hermon. However, their habitats are constantly shrinking. To commemorate wildlife month we would like to highlight a unique garden, intrinsically different from the other gardens at Ramat Hanadiv, which includes the world’s largest collection of Oncocyclus irises
The iris is hard to miss. Its spectacular and unique appearance stands out for miles and is familiar to us all. The iris is the kind of flower that amateur botanists will go to great lengths to find: they’ll travel to Mt Barkan to see the Gilboa iris, hike to observe the Yerucham iris in flower, or even journey to the Upper Galilee near Kibbutz Malkiya to enjoy Lortet’s iris. The surprise, amazement and excitement they always feel when they lay their eyes on them. Year after year.
The iris garden at Ramat Hanadiv houses the world’s largest collection of Oncocyclus irises, and allows the wider public to become familiar with this unique group of plants and the efforts taken to conserve it. The garden was established in 2010 with the aim of setting up a living collection of the Oncocyclus irises growing in Israel, and includes all the species in this group that grow in Israel.
David Shahak (z”k), who initiated the garden, was a farmer at Kibbutz Tirat Zvi and an ‘iris fanatic’. For many years he grew cultivated irises as one of the agricultural branches of his kibbutz, but still, his great love was for the wild irises. Together with him we developed an idea to integrate, within the Memorial Gardens, a different, seasonal garden of native plants dedicated to irises. As such, the garden is intrinsically different from the other gardens at Ramat Hanadiv – the species in it are seasonal and some of them flower for only a short period. The significance of this is that the garden’s value for research, education and nature conservation is greater than its display value.
Through a partnership between Ramat Hanadiv and Israel Nature and Parks Authority
(INPA), in collaboration with the Botanical Gardens of Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, seeds and rhizomes of iris species from disturbed natural habitats and seeds from established native populations were brought to the garden.
Massive urban development such as constructing towns and neighbourhoods, paving roads, establishing factories on wild areas and turning natural areas into shopping centres outside of the city, reduce the irises’ habitats. As these plants are sensitive to changes and diseases it is very difficult to grow them and indeed, impossible to reintroduce them to nature. Thus the iris garden serves as a refuge garden for Oncocyclus irises saved from these lands, as well as having educational value. Similarly to wise financial conduct, we do not keep all our eggs in one basket – some of the seeds are sown directly into the garden; some are sown in planters in the Ramat Hanadiv nursery, on a special germinating substrate, and following germination and establishment are transferred to the iris garden; and some are sent to the Israel Gene Bank at Beit Dagan, which serves as a ‘safe’ for Israeli wildflowers and some cultivated crops.
The iris collection at Ramat Hanadiv is diverse not only with respect to species, but is also separated and divided into different populations of the same species. For example, the coastal iris includes populations from a number of different places, such as Ein Hayam in Hadera, Givat Humra and the Nahal Sorek region. The populations are separated for future research on how the environment affects population genetics.
In order to conserve and maintain the collection, some of which deteriorates from year to year, we must constantly bring in propagating material, that is, seeds from reliable sources and viable rhizomes (an underground storage organ that resembles a corm, from which the plants develop each year). This task is not simple and necessitates coordination among authorities and other parties; it also requires us to visit the locations where they grow at the appropriate time.
Cooperation between all the parties who facilitated the established of the garden is still maintained today via sharing and updating professional knowledge with the staff of the botanical gardens and INPA. The success of this project is an integral part of the range of efforts taken towards iris conservation in Israel.
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